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Final playoff spots still unclear

By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A wacky end to a wacky FCS season was fitting as another surprising Saturday of results started at the top - with both last year's and this year's No. 1 teams.

Defending national champion Villanova needed to win just to get into the playoffs, and the Wildcats did by taking down No. 1-ranked Delaware on the road.

Naturally, the game went the distance and beyond, with Villanova squeezing out an 28-21 overtime victory.

That CAA Football thriller summed up a regular season in which five No. 1 teams lost six times (Villanova twice lost in the top spot).

The season has been such a roller coaster ride that Montana's record run of 17 straight playoff appearances could be over. The Grizzlies, national runners-up in each of the last two seasons, fell to 7-4 with a 21-16 loss at home to rival Montana State.

While that left Montana with only six Division I wins (the Griz opened the season with a thrashing of Division II Western State), results across the FCS on Saturday might mean the NCAA playoff selection committee will allow a team with only six Division I victories in the field for the first time.

Which team will have the first of the five seeds isn't clear as well. In addition to No. 1 Delaware losing on Saturday, No. 2 Appalachian State fell to FBS power Florida, 48-10. Also in the mix for seeds are Eastern Washington, Montana State, William & Mary and Stephen F. Austin.

Montana State, Coastal Carolina, William & Mary, Bethune-Cookman, Northern Iowa, Robert Morris, Southeast Missouri State, Lehigh, Appalachian State and Stephen F. Austin are in with the 10 automatic bids. The Sports Network is projecting eight of the 10 at-large bids will go to Eastern Washington, Delaware, New Hampshire, Villanova, Western Illinois, Jacksonville State, Wofford and Georgia Southern.

Villanova (7-4, 5-3), led by senior QB Chris Whitney, is returning to the FCS playoffs.
That would leave the last two spots from about six possibilities. Two have only six D-I wins - Montana and Cal Poly - and four definitely had at least seven D-I wins: Liberty, South Carolina State, North Dakota State and Jacksonville.

Following is a conference-by-conference look at the playoff situation heading into Sunday's 10 a.m. announcement of the 20-team playoff field on ESPNU.

Big Sky Conference: Montana State (9-2, 7-1) clinched the automatic bid and shared the conference title with Eastern Washington (9-2, 6-1). Griz Nation will be on the edge of their collective seats until Montana learns its fate Sunday morning.

Big South Conference: The unlikely happened Saturday when Coastal Carolina (6-5, 5-1) earned the conference's first-ever auto bid by winning a tie-breaker over Liberty (8-3, 5-1) and Stony Brook (6-5, 5-1). The tie-breaker came down to points allowed in conference games and Stony Brook lost a big edge heading into the day by falling to Liberty, 54-28, while Coastal coasted to a 70-3 win over Charleston Southern. Liberty, which beat Ball State of the FBS in September, has a shot at an at-large bid.

CAA Football: William & Mary (8-3, 6-2) earned the auto bid because of its head-to-head win over Delaware (9-2, 6-2). Villanova (7-4, 5-3) and New Hampshire (7-4, 5-3) secured at-large bids, while the bubble burst on both Massachusetts (6-5, 4-4) and Richmond (6-5, 4-4) on Saturday.

Great West Conference: The five-team league doesn't have a playoff bid. Southern Utah (6-5) won the title, but only Cal Poly (7-4) has a chance for an at-large bid.

Ivy League: The league doesn't participate in the playoffs, leaving Penn (9-1), which only lost to Villanova, on the sideline again this postseason.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference: Bethune-Cookman (10-1, 7-1), South Carolina State (9-2, 7-1) and Florida A&M (8-3, 7-1) shared the conference title, but Bethune-Cookman earned the auto bid despite having its perfect season ended by Florida A&M on Saturday. The Wildcats, under first-year coach Brian Jenkins, had the most points in a system that measured non-conference wins. Results across the FCS helped South Carolina State's cause for an at-large bid, but the Bulldogs played an easier schedule than other bubble teams.

Missouri Valley Football Conference: Northern Iowa (7-4, 6-2) already had the auto bid heading into Saturday's action, and Western Illinois (7-4, 5-3) likely earned its way into the field by beating the Panthers, 30-14. Meanwhile, North Dakota State (7-4, 4-4) might have played its way out of the field with a 3-0 loss to Missouri State.

Northeast Conference: Robert Morris (8-2, 7-1) was idle on Saturday, knowing it already had clinched the conference's first-ever auto bid.

Ohio Valley Conference: Southeast Missouri State (9-2, 7-1) earned the auto bid - its first playoff bid on any level - when Jacksonville State (9-2, 6-2) was upset at Tennessee Tech. Jacksonville State still figures to have an at- large bid despite losing two of its final three games.

Patriot Football League: Auto bid winner Lehigh (9-2, 5-0) enters the playoffs with a seven-game winning streak.

Pioneer Football League: The league doesn't have an auto bid, leaving Jacksonville (10-1, 8-0) hoping for an at-large bid. Dayton (10-1, 8-0) has the same record, but seemingly less of a shot for a bid.

Southern Conference: Appalachian State (9-2, 7-1) earned the auto bid and shared the title with Wofford (9-2, 7-1). Both teams figure to have first-round byes. Georgia Southern (7-4, 5-3), under first-year coach Jeff Monken, appears to have earned an at-large bid after winning its final three games.

Southland Conference: The host conference for the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, will have only one team in the playoffs, Stephen F. Austin (9-2, 6-1), which has won the last two titles.

Southwestern Athletic Conference: The conference doesn't participate in the playoffs. Alabama State (7-3, 6-3) will play in the conference title game against either Texas Southern (7-3, 7-1) or Grambling State (8-2, 7-1).

FCS PLAYOFF PROJECTION ...

The NCAA will announce its FCS playoff pairings on a 30-minute selection show on ESPNU on Sunday, Nov. 21, beginning at 10 a.m.

In the FCS Huddle has been projecting the potential playoff field since the preseason. The projection through Saturday click here.

Sacks or scores, contact Craig Haley at
chaley@sportsnetwork.com.


Follow Craig Haley on Twitter and Facebook.

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